It’s time to eat more fish
The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish per week based on numerous studies indicating that consuming fish is good for your heart. Fish is a rich source of omega-3 fats, which are known to help lower blood pressure and improve blood vessel function, as well as vitamin D and selenium, important nutrients that are found only in a limited number of foods. Yet nearly half the nation eats fish only occasionally or not at all.
With the Lenten season upon us, many folks, both observant and not, will be eating more fish than usual over the next few weeks. Unfortunately a Filet o’ Fish sandwich, delicious it may be, was likely not what the doctors at the AHA had in mind when they said to eat more fish. Fatty fish like pollock, salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies are especially rich in the nutrients that support heart health.
There are myriad reasons why Americans don’t regularly eat enough fish. Accessibility and cost are likely major factors, as fish can often outprice beef. Mercury levels are also a concern for many, and warnings about not consuming certain types of fish too often have caused some to unnecessarily avoid fish altogether.
Only four species of fish should be avoided altogether: shark, swordfish, tilefish (also known as golden snapper) and king mackerel are known to have some of the highest levels of mercury. Canned albacore tuna has more mercury than canned light or skipjack tuna, which has relatively low levels. Generally the larger the fish, the higher the mercury content. The Natural Resources Defense Council has a handy chart on their website indicating which fish are good choices and those that should be avoided.
Many of these smaller, low- mercury fish are also sustainable choices. The Monterey Bay Aquarium also provides a handy graphic on their website outlining which fish choices are farmed or caught responsibly.
Seafood choices that are low in mercury and have a minimal impact on the environment include American farmed catfish, wild-caught West Coast salmon, farmed mussels, clams and oysters, American pond-raised crawfish, Atlantic croaker, Pacific flounder, haddock, herring, North Atlantic mackerel, U.S. farm-raised shrimp, American/Mexican wild-caught brown shrimp, Pacific sole, American and Japanese-caught squid, farmed tilapia from U.S., Ecuador and Peru, American and Canadian-farmed trout, most types of American-caught lake whitefish, and whiting.
My family loves fish and would happily eat it for dinner several times a week. Sitka Salmon Company is a community-supported fishery that sells their premium, sustainably caught salmon here in Springfield. They offer monthly subscriptions and will deliver to your door. Their fish can also be purchased at Food Fantasies Naturally as well as at the Old State Capitol Farmers market. The salmon fillets thaw out quickly and are easy to prepare (though the fillets do contain bones, which are easily removed before cooking with a pair of needle-nosed pliers). I like to rub the boned fillets with olive oil and season simply before roasting at 275 degrees for about 15 minutes, depending on the size of the fillet.
Like anything else, you get what you pay for, and good quality fish is not cheap. Sustainably raised salmon fillets run about $14 per pound and my family of five would easily eat two pounds of fish for dinner. So, unfortunately, slow-roasted salmon fillets are not in the grocery budget as often as we’d like.
Thankfully there are other quick and delicious ways to enjoy the health benefits of seafood. Canned wild-caught red sockeye salmon is an excellent, lower mercury alternative to canned tuna. I regularly make a batch of salmon salad for weekday lunches, and it is delicious in a comforting baked salmon noodle casserole. Be aware that there are bones in the canned salmon and, though they are unsightly, they are nutritious and quite safe to eat. Just mash them up with the rest of the salmon and proceed. My grandmother regularly made these salmon cakes when I was growing up, always served with a side of baked mac and cheese buttered peas. Now these humble patties are a weeknight dinner staple that my own children enjoy.
This pantry-friendly recipe is ready in a flash and is fun to make with kids.
Grandma’s salmon cakes
1 can wild-caught Alaskan Red Salmon
½ cup dry bread crumbs or half a sleeve of crushed saltine crackers
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning, divided
1 tablespoon each chopped parsley and green onion (optional but delicious)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Combine canned salmon, bread crumbs, garlic powder, Old Bay seasoning, egg and parsley in a mixing bowl. Mix until thoroughly combined, then divide mixture into 4 patties.
Heat oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Pan-fry patties, turning once, about 3-4 minutes per side.
Serve with additional chopped parsley and lemon wedges, if desired.